These Folks Have Meant A Lot To John Over The Years.
My very first gun article, entitled “Four Times 44 = Fun” was published in GUNsport 45 years ago. I had spent the summer, along with the family, in the Payette National Forest. We were in charge of maintaining our church camp for the summer which gave me a lot of time to myself when the camp was empty and much of that time was spent shooting my first four .44 Magnums.
The first one, which I still have along with the rest of them, was a Ruger Flat-Top Blackhawk purchased in late 1956 or early 1957. That sixgun was a real eye-opener! I had earlier fired a Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum with a 4-inch barrel and the recoil was just awful for teenage hands used to shooting at the most the .357 Magnum, .45 Colt, or .45 ACP. Everyone knew the Colt Single Action Army grip, which the .44 Ruger duplicated tamed felt recoil. That is, before it was tied to the .44 Magnum.
Recoil with the Ruger was even worse than with the S&W. The S&W came back in the hand and the checkering of the grip left its pattern in my palm. However, the Ruger rolled in the hand just like the Colt Single Action Army and in this case the hammer dug into the area of my hand between my trigger finger and thumb taking off a good bit of skin and the blood flowed. Of course, I eventually learned to handle that Ruger .44. I never did care for the 6-1/2-inch barrel length and had it cut to 4-5/8 inches, flush with the ejector rod. That old Ruger rode on my hip in a George Lawrence Elmer Keith No. 120 holster for many miles through Idaho’s sagebrush, foothills, and mountains. Although never used as such, my hunting companions dubbed it the Bear Buster. I once came close to having it become a Bull Buster when a farmer asked us to help him load a bull into a trailer for shipment. The bull came after me, I jumped up on an old farm wagon, he came up after me, the floor gave way under him, and when we left there the bull was trapped. I wonder how they ever got him out.
Along with me that summer of ’67 in the Idaho mountains were my three other .44 Magnums, a Ruger Super Blackhawk, and two Smith & Wesson originals with 4- and 6-1/2-inch barrels. As mentioned I still have all four, however that original Ruger was sent off to the factory in the late 1960s to be re-barreled to 7-1/2 inches. It is still one of my all-time favorite sixguns. That summer was memorable for a lot of things one of which was writing my first article. I didn’t even have a camera at the time, however a fellow came through the camp and was a real help to me by taking pictures. As I look back over a writing career with more than 2,000 articles and, so far, five books I realize how many people have helped me in my endeavors.
Dozens upon dozens of men and women in the industry, editors, writers, custom sixgunsmiths, manufacturers, PR reps, all aided me in my work. One of the first to have a great effect was Jan Libourel who edited a couple of our competitors’ magazines. In the early years I was freelancing and having a terrible time coming up with good pictures. When I did an article for Jan he told me the problem pictures were not my fault but rather the way they were being processed. In those days virtually everything was black and white and most of mine were out of focus. It wasn’t the picture taking, however it was the machine processing them, which was neutral when it came to focusing. I had to learn to do my own pictures and that brings me to four men, all local and known by me for a long time, true friends who helped me along the way.
My help with pictures came from Jim. We both taught at the same school together for several decades with his room being across from mine which meant during passing time we always could talk together and keep each other enthused about our jobs; actually, the time in the late ’60s through late ’80s were a great experience with an atmosphere and camaraderie probably rarely, if ever, found in schools today. It was a wonderfully enjoyable time. While I wrestled with my students over algebra, Jim taught art and I was always somewhat envious of his talent being a frustrated artist myself. Eventually photography classes were added to the school curriculum. Jim built a completely equipped darkroom and just when I needed it the most, he taught me how to process my own pictures. I spent many an evening behind the dark curtains printing black and white photos for my articles.
If it hadn’t been for Jim showing me the way my writing career may have ended right there. Jim and I often hunted together and each year put on shooting demonstrations behind the school for the graduating 9th graders. When I retired from teaching in 1995 after 31 years, Jim also made a change and transferred to the high school. He came to visit me several times after school that first year basically because the new atmosphere was terribly lonely. We had a very tight-knit faculty and the men did many things together; at the new school they hardly talked to each other. Jim was not only an excellent hunter but also a dedicated fisherman taking an annual trip to Alaska with two other friends from our school. He wasn’t feeling well when he left on the last trip and they wound up putting him on an emergency flight from Alaska. He did not make it and we were all stunned. He is missed for many things including his wonderful talent, however I will always remember his friendship and how much he helped me when it was desperately needed.
I’ve known Joe ever since he was a teenager and if ever there was one to wear the title of Helper Extraordinaire it is Joe. He is the one who always takes “man shooting” pictures of me for my articles and books. I wonder how many thousands upon thousands of pictures he has taken over the years? But that’s just the beginning; he is always there when anything is needed. Over the years, I’ve built up a collection of more than 300 bullet molds and while I have cast thousands upon thousands of bullets over the years Joe has done tens of thousands of tens of thousands for me. For nearly 40 years, I accumulated lead, wheel weights, and type metal for bullet use storing them in an old shed. About 5 years ago Joe gathered everything up and melted it down into 1-pound ingots. We filled four brand-new galvanized garbage cans with his efforts. I didn’t think we’d ever run out, however between the two of us the wheelweights are already exhausted.
Joe has a key to my house and I would often find him here when I got home from school. One day he came in and hooked up a Case Kicker to my Rock Chucker press. This neat little device is spring-loaded and pops the case out of the press after it has been sized, or whatever operation is being done. The cases drop into a tray and it cuts the work time in half, as the cases do not have to be removed from the shell holder by hand. This little deal has saved me hundreds upon hundreds of hours over the years.
Denis is a retired engineer and has been a friend for well over 40 years and another fellow who’s always there to help. Before retiring he turned his garage into a fully equipped machine shop and from this comes many things to aid me in my work. When I got a S&W American .44 which uses heeled bullets he came up with a bullet crimper that works. It looks like a miniature guillotine and the case with the bullet inserted goes in horizontally.
A second most useful item is the L-shaped affair he made to fit in the trailer hitch on the bumper of my pickup. The top of this holds a barrel vise and we have used this to tweak barrels in the field many times. My pistol rest for testing handguns is another Denis creation. It is heavy duty and fully adjustable. He is currently finishing up a gong and frame we can set up at 200 yards and bang away at with our sixguns. Everything he builds is more than useful as he is not only an engineer but has the heart of an artist and everything he builds exhibits that feeling. Not just form but elegant perfection.
I’ve known Tony for over 40 years also and he is the fellow who knows how to shape single action grips to fit my hand perfectly. He made the first 1-piece pair of exotic dark grained pau ferro for a Colt Single Action Army .44 Special in 1968. They are still in service. He is currently handfitting and forming grip panels for the latest pair of Colt New Frontiers and also for a pair of Single Action Armies. He has also come up with some dandy sixguns for me including both a 2nd Generation Colt SAA .44 Special with an auxiliary cylinder in .44-40 and a .44 Special New Frontier. Both wear beautiful 1-piece ivory grips made by him to fit my hand perfectly. Several other of my sixguns have 1-piece ivories made by him, and he also knows how to perfectly tune a Single Action.
These four men have helped me tremendously over the past 40-plus years and I have been reminded lately of the fact sometimes helpers have four legs. Diamond Dot is recuperating from her second surgery in 3 months and our house critters have a sense for this spending most of their time right there with her. The recliner not only holds her but Chloe, Mollie, and Baby Kitty as well. They will be there helping her heal as long as it takes.
By John Taffin